Graham Reid | | 5 min read
This two-hour doco -- in New Zealand cinemas for this coming weekend only (details below) -- was made by the team behind the moving Amy Winehouse film . . . with Noel and Liam Gallagher as executive producers, given separate screen credit.
Given their long breakdown and the more recent solo careers of Liam and Noel, it sensibly starts where it ends, with their 1996 triumph at Knebworth.
Everyone, the brothers included, acknowledge this was their zenith, that crowning moment when – as Noel so astutely puts it – for the last time before the internet age a band of working class lads could come out of a council estate and conquer the world.
Well, Britain and the colonies anyway.
America was always going to be a much tougher nut to crack, especially after a disastrously hilarious early showing at the Whisky A Go Go in LA (where they went on with different set lists provided by their out-of-it soundman and tried to play), after which Noel did a runner and all but disappeared for three weeks.
Later of course the volatile relationship between the Gallaghers would sink their US ambitions again.
The seeds of their destruction were there in the very tetchy relationship which propelled them.
“Noel has a lot of buttons, Liam has a lot of fingers,” says Christine Mary Biller of Ignition Management.
And yet despite their differences, the debilitating amounts of drugs (crystal meth among them) and alcohol, band members coming and going and much else besides, Oasis were gloriously triumphant for a while . . . and very funny.
In one of the many voice-over interview snippets which keep this doco on the rails, Noel is heard to say he wanted to get rid of Phil Collins and Sting, all that junk food, McDonalds music.
“I want the severed head of Phil Collins in my fridge by the end of this decade," he says, "and if I haven't got it I'll be a failure".
Over the long haul Oasis didn't so much fail as betrayed themselves and the audience they professed to care for so much. The feuds meant the red mist clouded their vision beyond the next few days. If Noel had a big picture, sometimes Liam's seemed no bigger than the next football game on the telly, the next drug or drink, sometimes just getting to the end of the next song.
But to dismiss Liam as a fool would be careless.
Here – aside from the obvious scenes of dishevelment and explosive outbursts – he comes off in the quieter moments as more considered and thoughtful than the media persona at the time permitted.
He speaks about sometimes -- when the gigs were going off and there were huge crowds in front of them -- he would just become very, very still to watch and let it sink in. To live in that moment.
That was more true than he might think.
Back in the mid Nineties when Oasis were at the top of their game, one wag in a British rock mag took them to task for their stage shows. They were like holding a postcard of them at arms length and jiggling about it a bit, he wrote.
That was true to a large extent (the Beatles however didn't have "an act" either) but they were actually thrilling on stage . . . when they were at their best.
Elsewhere's first encounter with them was in November '95 at Granby Hall in Leicester – which looked more like a basketball stadium. They were match-fit after two nights at Earl's Court playing to 40,000 less than a fortnight before. They may have stood almost stock still but the energy that poured from the stage that night was thrilling.
I'd driven up from London with no idea where I was going and had an interview scheduled before the show.
It was exactly as I expected given all that was known about the Gallagher brothers – Noel was smart and funny and engaging, Liam gangling and detached and wandered in and out asking for ciggies.
But when they got on stage it were magic, mate.
A takeaway curry and few lagers down the pub afterwards and I'd had the perfect Britpop night.
(The second time I saw them however was over a year later and they were distracted and detached. Well off the boil.)
This doco – with helpful subtitles – traces their arc, after the widescreen spectacle intro of Knebworth, from their humble origins.
Noel disabuses the myth that he kicked open the rehearsal room door – to the theme of The Good The Bad and The Ugly, he jokes – and took control of Liam's band Rain to make them stars.
(Tellingly Liam says Noel got on his hands and knees and begged to be in the group, says he's got the photos somewhere.)
It was 18 months to two years of work and rehearsals and songwriting from the time he arrived to their breakthrough.
The Gallaghers pay as much tribute to, as they are dismissive of, various band members (Bonehead was, by consensus, the glue) but Noel does wonder aloud what it was about them which meant band members came and went.
The answer of course was the Gallaghers themselves: Noel says he is like a cat (independent) and Liam is like a dog, “Play with me, play with me”.
The long denouement after Knebworth 20 years ago isn't addressed except in brief mention, but all the elements which pulled them apart have been laid bare anyway. So the inevitable decline or implosion was always just beyond the next false dawn after their exceptional, zeitgeist-grabbing album What's The Story Morning Glory in '95.
Over its trajectory this doco is interesting but offers little new for fans other than quips, mayhem and great live and studio footage . . . although in cinemas there is the widescren sound'n'vision.
The whole Blur Vs Oasis narrative isn't mentioned.
Otherwise their familiar triumphs, fights, family problems, media outrages and much more are canvassed.
But so is the music and, because this retrospective view distills them down to most of their greatest songs, the dead air is cut away . . . and despite all the distractions what Noel observes a couple times remains true: that long after they are gone the songs will stand.
Oasis captured and were emblematic of a period in British music when Cigarettes and Alcohol and Live Forever seemed more than just excuses and attitudes but codes of conduct. It was great time to be British or in Britain, especially at an Oasis concert.
When they sang, “Where were you when we were getting high?” a generation could reply, "Right there in the audience" . . . and loving it.
The last great band before the internet age?
Maybe, but not definitely.
There is more on Oasis at Elsewhere including interviews, album and DVD reviews starting here.
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